sober lifestyle


I’ve never set foot in a studio or shown my face in a group class. I own one set of DVDs recorded in what looks like the mid-90s, one mud-stained, crumbling mat that’s at least 10 years old, and zero articles of Lululemon clothing. My “chair” pose is stiff like wicker and so painful that I’ve been known to say “f*ck off” to the sweet little instructor on the TV screen — or in my headphones — when she commands it. And my lack of grace while practicing on the wood floor in our living room can be heard throughout the house — “Hop your feet between your hands!” *BOOM* “Come up into airplane pose!” *CRASH* — so I’ve recently started taking it outside onto our deck.

Somehow, the deck is still standing. And I only have a few bruises. 😏

Sitting here today (at 2:30 AM on Sober Day #350), I would say yoga is currently my favorite form of exercise.

Yoga and walking, that is. The last couple times I tried to run, I popped the same damn hamstring, and it’s still touchy, so I just don’t try to run anymore. I don’t jump, either. Or lift weights much. Come to think of it, I don’t do a lot sweating. And while I’m on this particular stream of consciousness, I also abandoned the low-glycemic “Paleo” diet I stuck to so rigidly for more than a decade. 😱

Who am I?

This, from a girl whose lifelong approach to athletics could best be described as “Jen Smash!”, who sweat so much they had to dry off the floor after she dove for a volleyball, and who was so inflexible as a kid that she never earned the Presidential Fitness Award — despite being among the fastest runners in the class and not just rocking the Flexed Arm Hang but actually banging out pullups — on account of that Sit and Reach bullshit.

Ugh! Picturing that torture box still gives me the willies! Talk about bad hammies!

I had enough trouble with the sitting; forget the reaching. Stretching hurt, and required patience, and there was too much running around to do and too many balls to smash with hands and bats to waste time on something boring and slow like working on a weakness.

It might shock you to hear this, but I didn’t really grow out of that mentality. As an adult, it’s what drew me to competitive CrossFit, although the joke was kind of on me, because you actually have to move fluidly, not just frenetically, to be “good” at that “sport,” and to avoid irreparably jacking up your back and neck and hips and all the interconnected ligaments and tendons…

Nevertheless, I was all about that “squirrel on crack” life for a long time, and there are times when I think I’ve really “let myself go” over the past 11 months. The old me would have considered an hour-long yoga DVD and two-hour nature walk to be “resting” — as in, it might as well have been doing nothing at all.

Actually doing nothing at all just wasn’t an option. I literally thought that if I didn’t get my ass kicked at least once a day in the gym that I was a lazy piece of shit who didn’t deserve to eat. And if I did deserve to eat, something like fruit was off limits because it had too much sugar.

Get out of here with that banana! 😡

Would you mind passing the tequila? 😋

Jen’s entire Instagram, circa 2014-2019.

I see very clearly now that my lifestyle has never really been about health. Quite the opposite. It’s all been one big maladaptive coping strategy.

My history of alcohol addiction, compulsive overexercising and disordered eating comes from a deeply ingrained tendency toward rigidity. It’s a fixed mindset, as my therapist would say, that tells me there is only one way to prove my worth as a person. In my younger years, it was being good at school and sports. In early adulthood — when no one cares if you’re good at school or sports — it morphed into, simply, staying slim.

I knew only one way to do that. It was, coincidentally, the only way I’d ever known how to live with my lifelong anxiety issues — anxiety = deep-seated fear deep that I was not, in fact, a worthy person — and that was to KEEP MOVING.

Keep chasing something else, something better, because who you are and what you have, here and now, is nowhere near enough. Whatever you do, don’t stop to think, because you might realize you’re a failure. Never sit still long enough to feel, let alone acknowledge or examine, pain, because pain is f*cking scary.

Either physically get your ass up and go — somewhere, ANYWHERE — or escape into oblivion. (*Sound of tequila pouring into 24-ounce cup.*)

See? It’s so simple, really! I could never allow myself to slow down, be still and present in the moment because that would mean worthlessness — or worse, awareness of said worthlessness. I could never just sit there and be with myself, because I was afraid of the possibility…

Maybe I didn’t actually like that person.

Having psycho-babbled all that…you know, I truly have “let myself go” since I quit drinking. The yoga, the walking, the sitting for hours and writing, or reading…it’s all part of a natural and very necessary process. My motor is still constantly running, spinning, whirring, but I’m learning that there are other ways to channel that energy. There are other ways to self-soothe, using what is already here, inside, rather than reaching for something out there.

The old rigidity has, without a doubt, served me well in sobriety. I’ve adopted the “fixed mindset” that taking another drink is no longer an option, the way I once told myself that carbs were off limits and “rest days” were only for the weak. My mindset is backed by 20 years of irrefutable evidence, concrete proof that I cannot safely drink alcohol. This will never — yes, I said NEVER — be up for debate.

I have been forced to find another way to cope. I have been forced to feel, acknowledge, hurt, cry, sit still when I want to spin off, face reality when I want to drown it out, and get up close and personal with the real me when I’m scared to death of intimacy.

I realized long ago that it would take pain and patience to gain flexibility, but I didn’t realize it was my head, not my hamstrings, that I really needed to stretch.

Jen’s Entire Instagram, July 2019-Present.

1 thought on “Flexibility”

  1. Thanks Jen. “You do everything the hard way!!!” I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard that from my parents. I was strong willed and still am. The trick was, as you pointed out, to learn how to use it to my advantage. When to stand firm and when to stand down. I’m still learning. 😁

    I appreciate your insight. Thanks.


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